Tom Ford, a fashion designer turned filmmaker, gives us “Nocturnal Animals”, his second feature film. Ford clearly knows beauty when he sees it and makes this film a stunning piece of art to gaze upon, to say the least. “Nocturnal Animals” is unusually artistic, intoxicatingly dark. It’s a stylistic and clever drama/thriller that contrasts one scene with the other, one feeling with another and doesn’t give its audience an opportunity to feel vindicated in either of them.
At the beginning, we’re led into the tale of Susan (Adams) and her ex-husband Tony (Gyllenhaal). She is now a successful art dealer married to the rich playboy, Hutton Morrow (Hammer), whom she left Tony for; the playboy who is never home and who sleeps around on her. If she isn’t at an opening, she’s generally alone. Unexpectedly, she receives the proof of Tony’s new book to read. Having always encouraged him to write better she’s excited to begin reading it. As she reads, she is spooked by how good he has become and terrorized by the narration. As she reads, the tale unfolds before us. It flashes back to Susan with Tony when they were younger and we after his face is established, we see that she has interjected her ex-husband into the lead character of the book in her hands. The story is about loss. Perhaps Tony’s new book is a message to her. Maybe it’s just a book but all writing is ultimately about the writer in some sense or another and the loss in this frightening novel is clear and quite brutal… maybe how Tony felt when he lost his wife.
Ford opens the film with a live art exhibit and closes the film the same way. Though the players are different, it is obvious they are on display. You’ll be moved by the opening and touched by the end. The first might incite you to smile and giggle a bit at wiggling pounds of flesh dancing before your eyes and the later will stir you to sadness and despair. Played beautifully with the music, we see Susan, a living art piece of her own, but I’ll not spoil all of that.
“Nocturnal Animals” is a movie you have to experience. It’s simply not like all the rest. It will pull you into the story as Tony’s book does to Susan. Every background is contrived, locations are perfect, and the performers are good but if you didn’t already believe Michael Shannon is an acting deity, here’s another reason why so many do.